When you work in the hospitality industry, tips matter. Not only are you probably a shift worker, but you are also juggling many other things in your life like being a student, a parent, a friend, a caretaker, and a partner.

You know you’re not going to get rich off of your hourly wage – in the US for example, the federal minimum wage is $2.13 an hour. In most places, employers use this as the base wage for servers and other tip-based positions. That means that not only do you need to work as many hours as possible, but you also need to make sure those hours are during the best shifts possible so that you can rely on consistent tips. Before we dive into some ways to get better tips, let’s look at the root of bad tipping.

What causes bad tipping

Customers don’t want to tip

Many customers only tip the minimum amount because they feel compelled to do so by social pressure. People like this think that servers should not get paid extra to do what is already in their job descriptions. They can be difficult to convince otherwise. The people who leave bigger tips do so because they liked the wait staff. This means you’ll need to be friendly with your customers— but more on that later.

They’re having a bad day

If the customer has had a tough day at work or a fight with his or her spouse, they’re not thinking about you or the fact that you need tips to survive. Handling these types of customers can be tough. You’ll need to be really intuitive about how people are feeling and consider the best ways to approach them.

The service was bad

In some cases, mistakes are made in the kitchen, but as the customer-facing representative, the server is blamed. It is not uncommon for servers to receive low or no tips because of mistakes made by others. This is often why tips are shared communally in restaurants. When a mistake is made to the best thing you can do is explain to the customer what happened and make sure to expedite their order. Also, if you can offer them a complimentary drink or dessert that may help you salvage some of your tips.

Ways to Get Better Tips

Consistent tips are necessary for you to pay your bills. You will always have to deal with customers who are bad tippers or who refuse to tip for some reason. But, if you can make consistently good tips with other customers, those bad experiences shouldn’t break your budget.

  • Work good shifts

    Getting the best shifts at your restaurant will help you make the most tips. Remember most people base their tips on the size of the bill, so when you’re working busy shifts encourage appetizers, desserts, and drinks.

  • Introduce yourself

    Make sure you greet your customers by telling them your name. This small detail has been proven to increase tips. When you introduce yourself, tell customers your name and also tell them something to make it memorable. If your name rhymes with something or you spell it in an unusual way explain that. For example if your name is Mary, you might say, “I’m Mary and I’ll be your server today. I’m sorry that my little lamb couldn’t join us today but maybe she’ll make an appearance later.”

  • Have a unique style

    Michael Lynn of the School of Hotel Administration at Cornell University is an expert in this field. He wrote a paper compiling 14 studies of tipping behaviors. One common theme was that a personalized style increases tips. Wear something that makes you stand out from the other servers. This could be flowers in your hair, a headband, or even a special pin or sash. In Lynn’s research, customers referred to the server by the special trait, such as as “The waitress with the red hair.”

  • Find a connection

    Be friendly and make a special connection with your customers. If they are wearing a sports team’s t-shirt make a comment about that sport. Ask them if they're from the area. If they are, you can talk about local news and if they’re not, you can mention some fun things to do nearby.

  • Use touch

    This should be done sparingly, but touching a shoulder or a hand quickly and lightly can be interpreted as friendliness. In a study reported by Psychology Today, customers who were touched by female servers drank more alcohol and thus had a larger bills and left larger tips. Be sure that touching doesn’t seem a flirtatious or dominating.

  • Listen and be sensitive

    Listen attentively and make sure that you get the customers orders down the first time. You’ll be seen as more confident and thus will be more likely to receive good tips. Also be sure to confirm food allergy and sensitivity needs with the kitchen and get back to the customers with the answers right away. Taking these extra steps will make the customer appreciate you and could lead to higher tips.

  • Be great at your job

    Being a server is really a study in psychology. You have to learn to read the customers to know what kind of attention they need. Some want quick service while others want pampering. The more experience you have, the easier it is to understand the best way to interact with certain tables. These subtle and undetected skills will lead to more tips as you give customers exactly what they’re looking for.

There’s no exact science to getting consistent tips. However, there are things that you can do to make special connections with the customers. When these connections are formed, your customers will feel great about their experiences at the restaurant and pay it forward by tipping you what you deserve.


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